No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon’s Battle for Women’s Rights in Japan

Creston. Mar. 2020. 44p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781939547552.
Gr 1-4–Beate Sirota Gordon (1923-2012) may be little known in America, but in Japan, she is considered a hero. Gordon’s father moved the family from Europe to Japan when she was a young girl. She quickly learned the language, made close friends, and came to appreciate the country’s cultural customs. What she did not appreciate was the social and political status of women: they had few, if any, rights. While she attended college in the United States, World War II broke out. Gordon worked as an interpreter for the Army to support herself. Later she was allowed to travel to Japan with the troops. Her command of the Japanese language and familiarity with the country caught the attention of General Douglas MacArthur; he called upon Gordon to help write Japan’s new Constitution. She contributed critical wording for Articles 14 and 24 that ensured women had equal rights under the law. The U.S. considered her involvement a secret, so it wasn’t until decades later that she was able to talk about her contributions. Gordon’s story is compelling. Ample direct quotes draw the reader into important moments. The text is written for younger children, but it serves as a great example to older students of the difference one individual can make. Extensive notes, a time line, and additional references could lead a curious older student to conduct more research. There are a few Japanese terms (yukato, kanji drawings) that would benefit from more context or explanation. The vivid art uses amber and red tones that lend warmth and convey the emotions of each scene.
VERDICT In an era when women are finally being recognized for their important accomplishments, this title adds one more name to the list. It could also encourage a deeper understanding of Japanese and American relations post-Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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